Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Shut Down

The Washington Nationals today announced that they are shutting down the team for the season now that they have reached their pre-determined 87 win limit for 2012.  The team had planned to shut down in mid-September, just like every other year since moving to DC in 2005, but the surprising success of the team had national baseball observers questioning that decision. 

The shut down of the team was planned as a way to protect the franchise and its fans from the disappointment of being upstaged by the local football team, the Washington Redskins, just like every other year.  After Robert Griffin III singlehandedly defeated the New Orleans Saints on Sunday afternoon 40-32, the team saw fan interest weakening, and they did not want to risk further injury by continuing the season. 
Dozens of loyal seamheads in the Washington market shrugged their shoulders at the news, delivered by Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo at a hastily arranged news conference.  The fans, most wearing Chris Cooley jerseys, shook their heads and stared at the ground.

Rizzo said during his remarks that the shutdown was in the plans since spring training, and that the team was sticking to its win limit of 87 this year.

“No one expected the Nats to be in a pennant race this season, so when we planned for the shut down in April, no one cared.  Now that we are playing well, leading the major leagues with the best record in the game, everyone wants us to reconsider.  We knew once the Redskins started playing well, our fan interest and revenue would suffer irreparable harm.  For the good of the team and our fans, we are shutting it down.”

Every season since the franchise moved to Washington in 2005, the team shut down in early September once football started.  The only difference in 2012 is that this ball club has a chance to go to the playoffs, and go deep into the playoffs.  Rizzo was adamant that these conditions will not alter the team’s plans.  

“We’ve consulted with the experts and we’re studied the history of baseball in Washington, DC.  The longer we play, the more likely that we’ll do damage to ourselves.  I am looking out for the long term,” Rizzo said.

The GM went on to recap the rationale behind the decision to shut down the season despite the recent performance on the field.  

“The Washington Nationals have a young and inexperienced fan base.  They are not used to the increased workload that October baseball can bring.  Look, for years, they’ve strained themselves through season after season of 100 losses.  Once the fan base’s was stretched to the snapping point, its confidence had to be rebuilt.  We followed the advice of the doctors and transplanted strong, healthy players, like Jason Werth, from another city into our city.  The history of these types of procedures meant that we had to hope that new players, like Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond, would develop and grow around the transplants, and in turn, strengthen them.  So far, that is what has happened.”

By all indications, the plan is working.  The players are stronger, the fans are more confident, but Rizzo reminded the assembled crowd that the team was still in a rehab mode.  The repetitive injuries from losing over and over caused major damage to the fans, so Rizzo insisted that they stick to the plan.

Manager Davey Johnson, who himself looked awfully tired, fully supported the decision to shut down the season. 
“If we were still losing, no one would care if we shut down the season.  We did it last year.  This year, our progress is ahead of schedule, but it does not change our minds.  For the good of the franchise and for the good of the fragile psyche of our fans, we are shutting down now.”

The players were disappointed, but understood management’s reasoning behind the season shut down.

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was defiant in support of his GM and manager, “What if we kept playing baseball, and RGIII kept chipping away at our fan base during these final weeks of the season?  We’d never forgive ourselves.”

While RGIII’s stellar rookie debut makes the shutdown decision a little easier, since all print, radio, Internet and television coverage in the market has moved to covering his every bodily function, it still stings for some fans who were ready to accept the consequences, even if they got hurt.

Other fans, used to losing seasons and ignoring the team in late September, were more circumspect.

“Look, they could keep playing but let’s face it – no one cares anymore.  RGIII had a QB rating of 139.5 against the Saints, and that New Orleans defense makes money hurting people.  Strasburg could strike out Babe Ruth tomorrow, and all the fans would talk about was Pierre Garcon’s sore foot and its impact on ‘Skins passing game.”

“It’s football season now, dude.”

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